There’s no-one else on the Australian music scene quite like Glenn Cardier. Glenn A Baker dubbed him a ‘national treasure’ and Rhythms Magazine said ‘he’s a genie one-off, a maverick’.
In the 70s, Australian singer/songwriter and guitarist Glenn Cardier produced three albums of highly original folk/rock songs. He played the first two Sunbury festivals, has toured with Spike Milligan and opened for Harry Chapin, Frank Zappa, Sherbet, Cheech & Chong and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
Glenn Cardier remained in the scene throughout the 80s and 90s but to a lesser degree, and it wasn’t until post-2000 that Glenn Cardier re-emerged into the music scene with extraordinary prowess. His latest release Old Haunts (2013) includes 42 previously unreleased demo and broadcast tracks discovered on reel-to-reel tapes stored in his home studio. Onstage, there are the usual trademark flashes of dark humour in his songs of stark beauty and thumping rockabilly/blues.
It has always been a bit of an unlikely career for the man who started out as an art teacher.
‘I have always played the guitar so the music and the art intersected and I guess it still does. I do the art for my CDs now . But I fell in love with rock ’n’ roll – while I was an art teacher in Brisbane. They had a show called New Faces – and I did okay on it and then Bandstand had a songwriters’ show and I wrote a song and submitted it and did okay. After that, Festival records signed me up and I turned my back on art teaching!’
‘There’s always a song knocking on the door,’ says Cardier, ‘always something. It is your artistic voice; whether it’s painting or music, it’s still what you are trying to express. I spend a lot of time on a song when it’s forming; I agonise over each word to see where it is placed. My stuff is formed in a poetic way; they are still songs, you have repetition, except you use the word baby and grunt!’
Songwriting is very much an art for Cardier.
‘My shows are all original songs, although it’s different every time… in the writing I work on a pulse or a feeling that is attached to a musical phrase or some kind of lyric that might gradually develop. I guess it’s an organic process rather than a journalistic one – I have learnt to let the song emerge. People comment on my songs that they always have interesting subject matter, even if it’s a love song. I try a different take on things. I think I have always come at things from a slightly different direction!’
So what is Cardier’s take on love? ‘ Well you could write a desperately sad piece of work or do a painting on the subject despite who you are, the art of it is that its not confessional; it might be for the feelings that are underneath, but not the actual story that is told in the song. I think that the empathy certainly works in a concert setting. If I just pop one off, the audience won’t get it; it has to mean something, but it’s not a chapter of my life. Although when I look back on it I know it was going through that. There is a CD called Rattle the Cage and one of the songs is Ringmaster Blues – it’s about a ringmaster looking at his circus falling apart. The underlying emotion is the essence, I’ve never been a ringmaster but I have felt things fall apart!’
Cardier had dipped out of the music industry for a decade or more, content to produce demos at his home studio and play guitar with friends.
‘I thought that chapter of my life was closed. I toured with Spike Milligan and lived to tell the tale. After 25 years of doing stuff like that and performing with Frank Zappa, I thought that was it. But a friend of mine said come down and sing songs at this open mic night. I was very rusty. Played three or four songs but I went, yeah, that’s who I used to be. It was like an old friend turning up. I hadn’t been part of the music industry for so long it didn’t matter. I can be fearless. I don’t really care… I write as strongly as I can. I am just happy to write. I have always got a song ready to go and I am performing better and making better records than I ever have. I am a songwriter, so whatever my shortcomings might be as a guitarist or vocalist I will be writing songs forever!’
And what should people expect for his show at Bluesfest this year?
‘I’ve got four other players: Rex Goh, who is a legendary guitar player; Phil Grove on keyboards; Mic Malouf on double bass; and Davo Fester on drums. If you want to sit through the journey, I can promise it’s uncompromising and worth it!’
Glenn Cardier performs at Bluesfest. For program and ticket enquiries go to www.bluesfest.com.au.
Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.